Fulham ground out another vital win to keep themselves in the automatic promotion picture as a late strike from Aboubakar Kamara after David Nugent’s own goal secured a victory over fellow promotion contenders Preston North End at Craven Cottage this afternoon.
Scott Parker’s side were made to work hard for the three points by their visitors, with Preston enjoying plenty of the ball in the first half and creating a number of clear-cut chances. Alex Neill’s side were unable to score when they were on top and, once Fulham got a stroke of good fortune to take the lead after Nugent inadvertently nodded in a near post corner from Anthony Knockaert, they assumed control of the contest.
The away side started the stronger – fashioning the first chance via a sweeping move down the right flank. Ben Davies stepped in to disrupt a Fulham attack, found Nugent and Tom Barkhuizen breezed away from Joe Bryan, who injured his hamstring attempting to match the midfielder’s blistering pace, and when Marek Rodak could only parry the low cross into Brad Potts’ path, Michael Hector had to make a last-ditch saving tackle. Cyrus Christie replaced Bryan, with Denis Odoi switching to left back, and the Republic of Ireland full back produced his most complete display in a Fulham shirt, offering a real attacking threat throughout.
Fulham enjoyed more fortune when North End had a goal chalked off questionably in the tenth minute. Nugent flicked on Daniel Johnson’s corner for Sean Maguire to force home at the far post – but the flag went up for offside. Whether the Ireland international had to touch it given Nugent’s header might have been heading for the far corner anyway was also open to question, but decision seemed marginal at best. Rodak then fielded a rising drive from Alan Browne as the visitors continued to flood forward in numbers.
Parker’s men gradually began to put together some promising football of their own. A looping Knockaert header after some fine approach play by Christie was easy enough for Declan Rudd to field and another intricate move saw Bobby Decordova-Reid skip into space in the box before dragging his shot disappointingly wide.
Preston’s ambition was still posing Fulham serious problems. Patrick Bauer headed wide at the far post having remained in an advanced position when a corner wasn’t properly cleared and Rodak had to stretch to keep out another Browne shot after a bout of pinball had delivered the ball to the North End skipper. Christie almost broke the deadlock right on half time when he advanced into the area but his low shot across goal was well gathered by Rudd.
Fulham started the second period on the front foot but couldn’t really penetrate a resolute Preston defence with a tame header from the well-marshalled Aleksandar Mitrovic representing their only serious chance of the first ten minutes. The goal, when it came, was a complete fluke. Knockaert clipped a corner towards the near post where Nugent was stationed, but the former England international somehow managed to find the top corner with his clearing header.
Fulham then pressed for a crucial second, but despite a number of dangerous crosses nothing materialised. The best opportunities fell at the feet of Christie, who was enjoying an outstanding cameo. He fashioned the first for himself, breaking up a Preston attack on the halfway line and driving deep into North End territory before his shot was deflected behind for a corner. His follow up when the set play landed at his feet flew fractionally over the bar.
Cairney, who enjoyed another excellent game as the orchestrator of Fulham’s tempo from a deep midfield position, drove over from distance after space opened up in front of him whilst Cavaleiro, who was anonymous for long periods, slipped at the vital moment as he prepared to the pull trigger having cut inside from the left flank.
Preston piled players forward in search of a late equaliser. They went more direct in the second period but their attacking threat actually diminshed, with their only clear chance coming in the form of another Bauer header from Harrop’s free-kick that Rodak had to shovel away from danger. When they won a corner deep into the fourth minute of added time, Preston sent everyone forward only for Johnson’s blocked shot to fall for Kamara, who surged clear down the left flank, reaching the penalty area in no time at all. The Frenchman, unlucky not to start after his decisive contribution on Wednesday, sought to play in Cavaleiro, but gobbled up the return pass, powering home at the near post to make sure of the points.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan (Christie 9), Hector, Ream; Arter (McDonald 90), Cairney, Decordova-Reid; Knockaert (Kamara 78), Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, Johansen, Kebano.
GOALS: Nugent (o.g. 58), Kamara (90+5).
PRESTON NORTH END (4-2-3-1): Rudd; Fisher, Hughes, Bauer, Davies; Johnson, Browne; Barkhuizen, Maguire (Sinclair 72), Potts (Harrop 83); Nugent (Stockley 66). Subs (not used): Ripley, Clarke, Huntingdon, Ledson.
REFEREE: David Webb